Category: Uncategorized

Browers Invade Taiwan: Excerpts From Mom Brower

Yo yo yo! Time for a new blog post. As some of you may or may not know, we’ve been busy with visitors! Sarah’s Mom, Dad, and younger sister came to Taipei to hang out with us and get a window into our lives over here. What a great week it was. Taiwan is a place The Brower’s had never even thought about before and us living here gave them a great excuse to come check it out. I think it’s safe to say that had an amazing, eye opening experience as they lived our life for a few days.

With that being said, Mom Brower kept a daily journal and documented their everyday travels, sights, smells, and tastes. I thought it would be fun to change up this blog post…this post will be excerpts taken from Mom Brower’s journal to give you a different and new point of view of what it was like to be in Taiwan.

So from the eyes of Mom Brower:

Day 1

Slept like babies and ready to see the city! Ready to set out for our first MRT ride to Tea Mountain. Rode the gondola up, up, up to Tea Mountain! The weather was a sunny 90 degrees…beautiful weather! The views on top were beautiful! We enjoyed vanilla milk tea at an outdoor tea garden overlooking Taipei.

IMG_6560

After a bathroom break back at the apartment, we were headed to Houshanpi to experience the crazy streets of Taiwan and a hike up to Tiger Mountain. Spectacular views on top of a cliff with no fences! We ended the night strolling through Raohe Night Market and then headed to 737 for steamed dumplings and soup. What an eventful first day!

IMG_8246

Day 2

After a smorgasbord of pastries from the local bakery, we headed out to the coastal town of a Danshui. We shopped, embraced new adventures, foods, and people. The first “new taste” was bubble tea! We liked it….but what are those little black balls really? After exploring and walking for hours, Hannah got a little hangry (hungry and angry). We were vey indecisive about where to eat, so we ended up going for “gas station” chicken at 7-11 🙂 We regrouped and headed for new culinary adventures. We sampled fried squid and Taiwanese ice cream cones. The area offered a beautiful view of the water, city, and a little tranquility.

IMG_6650

IMG_6645

After Danshui we headed to Shilin Night Market and it was BUSY. We got sucked into the crowds as we passed booth after booth of food, clothing, and more food! Well, we did it! We all tried the infamous stinky tofu. Final analysis of the tofu…Some almost threw up and no one needed a repeat…But we were all feeling proud for trying it.

IMG_1276

IMG_1304_2

Day 3

He is Risen! Great devotions on this Easter morning. We headed out to their familiar and our unfamiliar surroundings. Bought some baked goods, bubble tea, and slushies from the different day markets. Got some anti-itch cream for Dad…lots of walking 😉 Picked up some fruit and found a table at tranquil Bihu Lake for a nice brunch. Such a gorgeous place in the middle of extreme busyness. Definitely a place that was needed after being surrounded by throngs of people. We then went down to downtown Taipei, the “Michigan Street of Taipei.” High rises, business district, upscale shopping, and many restaurants are all here. We all went to the top of Taipei 101 to take a look of Taipei from up high. Amazing views from the observatories!

IMG_0994_2

IMG_1050_2

IMG_8848

Day 4

Sunny and 90! Took MRT to the end of the green line and boarded an extremely crowded bus up to Wulai, Taiwan. Standing room only, hairpin turns….very, very scary ride. Body to body we mosh pitted all the way up the mountain.

IMG_1105_2

Finally, we made it to our destination. What we found was beautiful Xindian River, suspension bridges, and mountains. Absolutely gorgeous! We walked through the old street and sampled meats, fish patties (ew), noodles, bamboo rice, and others. We hiked to a waterfall and took an old logging train back down. We finished the day trip with hot springs along the river…what an experience that was. Lots of older Taiwanese people soaking in what seemed like, “their” pools. We got lots of stares as we were the only 5 Caucasian people around. We were able to jump into the river to cool off and get back into the hot springs. What an awesome day trip! On the way back, we stopped at Kyle and Sarah’s night market and ate fried rice and beef noodle soup…delicious and exhausted.

IMG_1107_2

IMG_1309_2

IMG_1288_2

Day 5

MRT to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. There we viewed the beautiful temple-like theaters and monuments. We met an English speaking tour guide who singled us out and gave us special spots for viewing the changing of the guards at the memorial. Very similar to the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Very interesting.

IMG_1984

We ate at the infamous 3 story KFC for lunch per Hannah and Kyle’s request 🙂

IMG_1982

For supper, we roamed the area looking for a good place to eat. Couldn’t find anything everyone agreed on. Finally, stopped at a little night stall and ate a delicious version of beef noodle soup…Yum!

Day 6

Today we visited the pandas and the other animals at the Taipei Zoo. As Tea Mountain is at the same MRT stop, we decided to ride the gondola up for a second round. Sampled some black and Oolong tea at a tea house. For dinner we went to one of Kyle and Sarah’s favorites…Korean BBQ for a 2 hour dinner. We LOVED this meal. All you can eat and drink! It was here that Kyle sparked the thought provoking conversation of “biggest surprises, best/worst, and what can we learn from this experience?” Honest conversation over a great meal.

IMG_6823

Day 7

Took a hike to Dahu Park that was “just around the corner.” Everything was always “just around the corner” here in Taipei. Lots of good walking! Viewed the nature, greenery and the waterfall. While the kids were working, we went to Miramar, another upscale shopping area, to ride the giant Ferris wheel. For dinner, we headed to Kyle’s all time favorite restaurant, Toasteria. Delicious sandwiches. Exhausted after another great day.

IMG_1349_2

Day 8

Wufenpu shopping! Consisted of thousands of street booths with inexpensive clothing for sale. Couldn’t believe the narrow alleys with all the scooters and dogs 🙂 shopped the morning away! At night, we headed to Kyle and Sarah’s night market. This was our true window into their lives for the past 8 months. It was here we met their “family.” Being an observer, it was clear that there was a bond between our children and the night market family. Despite our obvious language barrier, they would bring us different foods and drinks to cheer with. We were glad Kyle could interpret and dialogue for us 🙂 They noticed I liked tea, so they brought over tea after tea and even gave us lessons on the tea culture in Taiwan. Kyle and Hannah took a crazy scooter ride home from the locals to end the night. SO MUCH TEA 🙂 I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about this night. No words to describe how God had blessed our children by providing them with people to sit with, learn from, and just bond with. Proof that with a language barrier, a smile is universal 🙂

IMG_1443_2

IMG_6969

IMG_6993

Day 9

This morning we observed Teacher Kyle and Teacher Sarah’s school! Played some games and had an Easter egg hunt with Sarah’s class. We walked through some markets on the way home and ate some pastries. We headed back to Miramar so the boys and Hannah could hit some golf balls at the city driving range.

IMG_7027

IMG_7050

At night, we went to Ximending to eat at Modern Toilet…Hannah’s pick. We ate some familiar pasta and poop ice cream 🙂 Lots of rain, lots of people, and lots of umbrellas!

Day 10

Last day in Taiwan 😦 Today we went to the 737 day market to shop for some souvenirs. We walked around the day market and looked at the different fruit and clothes stands. For lunch, we enjoyed a local “box lunch.” After packing back at the apartment, we went back down to the Taipei 101 area to soak it in one last time. We ate at the Taipei 101 mall and had a delicious mango shaved ice for dessert!

unnamed

Closing thoughts from the Brower family.

“Goodbye Taiwan. You have allowed us to embrace your culture, amazed us with your crowded streets and busy markets. We have been impressed with the refreshing bubble tea, multiple bakeries, and tried many of your “interesting” foods. We have ridden your MRT and dodged the thousands of scooters. We have been in awe of the beautiful mountains and waterfalls. You have made our world smaller as we came to realize that, despite the differences, you love and treat your families just like us. We all appreciate our new understanding of people, and although the language is a barrier, we realize more than ever, that a smile is universal.”

I hope you enjoyed the different view of Taipei from Mom Brower. We had a fantastic week showing them around Taiwan. We are so thankful they were able to experience this amazing country with us for the week.

Until next time!

Kyle and Sarah

我們最喜歡的地方:第一部分 Our Favorite Places: Part I

Hey everyone,

Sounds like Spring has arrived back in the mitten…That’s awesome! However, I am a little jealous of my fellow motorcyclers getting their bikes out of winter storage. Hope you are all enjoying the warmer weather and getting outside!

Nothing too huge going on over here for us. We’re just enjoying Spring time as well. Can’t beat long walks and sitting outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

As I don’t have much to write about this time, I thought I’d outline some of our favorite spots in Taipei. So far I’ve only written about our life and what we do with our weeks…I think it’ll be fun to give you a deeper look at some of our favorite places in Taipei.

1) 士林夜市 Shilin Night Market

Shilin night market is about a 40-50 minute MRT ride from our apartment, but is one of our favorite night markets in Taipei. Not only is it one of our favorites but it is the largest and most popular night market in Taipei. We’ve been there on week nights and weekends and it’s amazing how different the experience can be. On week nights, the streets tend to be mellow and you are able to stroll the countless lanes browsing the knick-knacks without much problem. Now, take Saturday night. The second you alight the MRT, you’re hit in the face with just an insane amount of people. Rather than walking the lanes looking at the latest Korean sweaters, you are now shuffling your feet trying to stay upright. Ever been in a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert? Yup, that’s what it’s like.

IMG_1451

IMG_1457

Sarah and I like crowds. We love the energy on a Saturday night at Shilin. Once you make your way through the main road, it does open up for some breathing room. Once it does, you can truly enjoy the night market and it’s various fashion and souvenir shops to the stinky tofu and almond juice stands. It’s a shopping haven if you’re into the latest and greatest Asian styles. It’s also a snackie and food lovers paradise. You name it, you can probably find it at Shilin night market.

IMG_0885

2) 美麗華百樂園 Miramar

This may sound lame and I know I’ll get some crap from Nate Adema, but Sarah and I like to go to the mall. I actually like going to malls wherever we travel because they’re great places to people watch. For some reason I enjoy walking through the food courts and browsing the books at ESLITE bookstore. What do everyday people eat? What are they reading?  It’s interesting.

Miramar is an entertainment park and mall three stops via the MRT from our place. Other than UNIQLO, the only department store I can find clothing that fits me, we don’t really shop. We go to Miramar to see a movie, or go to Carrefour (similar to Sam’s Club), or for our weekly sushi fix. There’s really nothing terribly special about Miramar, it’s just a really nice place to chill and get a bite to eat. Oh, there’s also a giant Ferris wheel to ride, too!

IMG_2033

IMG_1744

3) 碧湖公園 Bihu Lake

Ahhh good ol’ Bihu Lake. Sarah’s all-time favorite place in Taipei. Without Bihu Lake, I don’t think Sarah would’ve survived. This lake is only a 5 minute walk from our place and it’s a place of tranquility and peace. Sarah runs or walks around this lake at least 6 days a week and I usually join her before school during the week for a couple laps. I think you can call it her ‘happy place.’ It’s not a large lake as it’s only about one mile around, but it’s always full of Mom’s pushing their babies or the elderly getting their exercise in.  We’ve sat on the shores of this lake many nights just soaking in the peacefulness and enjoying the stars that are so easily missed in Taipei. Bihu lake is probably not in any tour books, let alone a hot spot for a vacation to Taipei, but it’s definitely been a highlight for us. We will miss this place.

IMG_1036_2

IMG_0632

4) 七三七夜市 737 Night Market

Another local favorite of ours and a place I’ve mentioned numerous time in previous posts. We like to call this ‘our night market.’ It’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment and very near to Bihu Lake. Unlike Shilin with it’s numerous lanes and stalls, 737 night market is roughly one street with mostly food stalls lining the street. We tend to eat here 2 or 3 times a week. If you have read some of our previous posts, we have come to know and love a few of the cooks and regulars at this night market. Terry, our all-time favorite cook and his wife, Lily, along with their family have taken us in like their own. We love going to 737 and playing with their children and grabbing a bubble milk tea from our buddy, Eddy. Whether you want to sample the pepper fried ‘snackers,’ or fried pigs blood on a stick, or the less adventurous fried rice, it’s a great place to get to know the Taiwanese people and their endless hospitality. Side note on the hospitality…be prepared to eat some very interesting dishes! You never know what will be brought over next. Guess that’s the fun of it 🙂

IMG_0970

IMG_1898

IMG_0976

IMG_1231

IMG_1621

5) 貓空 Maokong

Maokong is located at the very end of the brown line on the MRT. This mountain/area used to be the biggest tea growing area in Taipei. Now Maokong is a popular place to soak in the tea drinking culture and get great views while you’re at it. There are many footpaths and trails in and around Maokong, but we love to take the gondola. For $1.50 one way, you are given a fantastic 20-30 minute ride up the mountain. You cannot beat the views of Taipei from the Gondola. If you’re lucky and have time to wait in line, you can even ride the glass bottom gondola to the top.

IMG_1540

IMG_1546

IMG_3064

At the top, you can mosey along the road trails and taste Taiwanese sausage and sit down overlooking a panorama of Taipei sipping a hot or cold glass of some of the best tea you will taste in your life. If you’re into a relaxing, cultural experience Maokong is an excellent place.

IMG_0764

6) 信義區 Xinyi District

As much as I enjoy the outdoors and hiking the various trails around Taipei, I’m just captivated by foreign cities. Yes, you can experience the wildlife and the beautiful natural landscapes in foreign places, but the cities are just full of life. If I could pick one place to spend my time, it would be downtown Xinyi. I love it down there. It’s home to my other love, the Taipei 101 (more on the Taipei 101 later), and so many other awesome things. Xinyi is the trend-setting, modern and most cosmopolitan area in Taipei. I love this area at night as the lights charge the city into a vibrant place. Opposite of the night markets where you’re never quite sure what you’re going to eat, Xinyi is home to world famous restaurants and eateries. Although we can hardly afford some of these places, there are a few restaurants that make perfect date nights. We love walking the brightly lit pedestrian areas catching a chinese yo-yo show, watching the different street performers, or listening to soon-to-be pop stars of Taiwan. It’s a hopping place always full of activity.

IMG_0915

IMG_2074

I hope you’ve enjoyed Part I of our favorite places in Taipei. These are definitely going to be a few spot we’re going to miss when we go home. Taipei is an amazing city with so much to offer for every kind of taste. We’re having such a great time immersing ourselves into Taipei.

Happy Spring!

Kyle and Sarah

 

 

The Year of the Ram

Hello world. I think it’s time for a blog post! It’s been a couple weeks…my bad.

Well we are back to the grind here in Taipei. We had an amazing month traveling but now it’s back to reality. Sarah and I are both teaching our same classes from last semester, although each class has gone up a level. Each class has gained a kid or two, which is always nice as it gives each class a new flavor. We’re having fun teaching our kids to play battleship, “Simon says” AKA “Teacher says,” and drawing my little first grader’s all-time favorite movie character….Elsa. Sharon is usually quite the handful and is constantly pushing my buttons, but when she saw that I was drawing Elsa….her face lit up and a HUGE smile glowed across her face. Can’t beat that.

It’s been nice to just get back into a routine. We were in a nasty funk before we went home of staying up really late and waking up really late. We were feeling like bumps on a log and we weren’t getting anything accomplished. Now that we’re back, we’ve made it a point to get to bed at a decent time and wake up on time…can you say “We’re getting older?” WOW. I’ve got a rekindled vengeance to really hit my Chinese studies hard, while Sarah continues to explore Taipei by foot. We make it a point to try a new restaurant every week, and also hang up the ENO hammock at Bihu Lake to chill.

Most importantly, we’ve been spending time in our Bible. We’ve decided to read through the Bible together as we both, shamefully, have never truly read it from cover to cover. Already, as we make our way through it, we have gained and learned so much that we are able to apply to our lives here in Taipei. We are excited to continue reading and growing in our faith together.

Late February and early March is an insane time to be in Taiwan. Let’s just say it sounds like the city is blowing up from all the fireworks and firecrackers going off literally 24 hours a day. It’s Chinese New Year!!! Chinese New Year is by far the largest and most important festival celebrated by the Chinese people around the globe. Shops and tourist attractions usually shut down for the first couple days of the new year and people spend their time visiting family and join in on the celebrations. If you ask our students what their favorite part of the Chinese New Year is, they would say the “紅包” or “red envelope.” The red envelopes symbolize good luck and are supposed to ward off evil spirits, but most importantly for the kids, they are usually filled with a stack of money! The red envelopes are usually given to the kids by their families and are put into a savings account. Luckily for my student, Julian, he was pretty pumped when his Mom let him buy a PS3!

One of the largest festivals in Taiwan during the Chinese New Year is the Pingxi Lantern Festival. Tradition has it that the sky lanterns were invented to deliver military information from beacon tower to beacon tower during times of war. Now, the sky lanterns are released into the air as prayers to the ancestors for the coming year. The lanterns reflect the hopes and dreams of the people as they slowly float into the sky. During this time of year, the tiny town of Pingxi is overwhelmed with visitors strolling the old street lanes munching on famous garlic Taiwanese sausage, and scribbling their wishes and goals on the countless lanterns. Sarah and I also joined in on the festivities and bought ourselves a red lantern and wrote our dreams and wishes on it and launched it into the sky.

Nightfall. It truly is a spectacle to behold once in your lifetime. The dreams and wishes have been written, and the sky lanterns are ready to be lit and float off into the sky. At last, just over the tips of the trees, we were able to experience hundreds upon hundreds of lanterns rising into the night sky. It was magnificent! The lanterns slowly dispersed and the whole sky was glowing with different colors. It was beautiful and such a great way to soak in the Chinese culture.

It’s the year of the Ram or Goat (can be translated a few different ways). On the last day of the Chinese New Year, Sarah and I, along with the whole city of Taipei, went to Yuanshan Park to look at the bizarrely decorated park. The park is decorated according to whichever zodiac sign is for the new year. As I said, it is the year of the Ram. The park is a showcase for not only the Ram, but historic legends, fairy-tale characters, and party animals all lit up with christmas lights. The centerpiece for this year’s festival was a 40 foot tall goat on a mountaintop, but my favorite was the giant robot!

I can just see it…next Christmas…a huge, lit up robot in the middle of my front yard as a part of my Christmas light display! What do you think Sarah?!

We ended the week with a great night out with great friends. For all you manbun haters, I got a haircut.

Until next time.

Kyle and Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Rapids to Taip….Tokyo!

Wow. What a crazy awesome past 3 weeks. Last time I wrote we were just getting back to Taipei from Cambodia and preparing to head out the next day for Grand Rapids. Can’t believe how fast the time flew by as I sit on my couch in Taipei.

Grand Rapids. We missed you. When we signed up for teaching English in Taiwan we knew we we would be coming back to Michigan for a very special occasion. My best friend Jord was getting married to the girl of his dreams, Jodi….and I was one of the best men. Definitely couldn’t miss that! We celebrated the night away and couldn’t be more happy for them!

10952282_838614076200468_8153844818943448375_o

We were excited to go home. The day we left to go back to the USA was almost exactly the halfway point of our year abroad. We were super pumped to see our families and catch up with our friends. It was an incredibly busy 2 weeks. There was rarely a moment that wasn’t filled with meeting someone for a coffee or dinner, but it was rejuvenating. Ahhh….a home cooked meal, communicating in English, chips n’ cheese, Marshalls (Sarah), tap water, Meijer, and Marge’s donuts. What a great couple weeks spent seeing the people we’ve missed and eating the food we’ve craved!

I’ve been fascinated with Japan ever since I heard stories from my friend Marcus, wiki’d the crap out of every city in Japan, and “caught them all” in my all time favorite gameboy game, Pokemon. I had been dying to get to the epitome of this awesomeness. Tokyo. I had been calling Delta Airlines daily for 2 weeks trying to figure out how we could stop in Tokyo on the way back to Taipei without paying a fortune…it just wasn’t happening. I had tried and tried and there was nothing else I could have done at that point.

Then… we landed in Tokyo Narita International Airport for our 1 hour layover in Tokyo on our way back to Taipei.

“Let’s just see what they say, Sarah!!” I said to Sarah as we were hustling to our next gate. “You never know. Maybe they can just pull our bags and we can walk out the doors.”

So that’s exactly what we did. Delta pulled some strings, got our bags, and cancelled the last leg of our trip back….and it was 7pm….after a 14 hour flight….with absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. On top of that, we didn’t have the appropriate shoes or our camera along… got to love a last minute trip to Tokyo 🙂

We are constantly reminded that Asia is such a diverse continent and no two places are even remotely the same. I know all of you Asia N00bs think that China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan are all pretty much the same, am I right? Wrong! I thought the same thing…and going to Japan proved us wrong yet again. I had never experienced a city so magnificently huge and brilliantly neoned out as the hyper charged capital of Japan. From the window of the airplane, Tokyo looked like any other city, but once we delved further, we came to realize Tokyo was unique. Tokyo was ridiculous in every way possible. We freaking loved it.

image1-8

IMG_2499

The moment we arrived in Ikebukuro, Tokyo via the sleek N’EX express train, we knew it was going to be a memorable week. Tokyo felt different. We felt like ants in a concrete jungle that was actually eerily quiet for being the second largest city in the world. It took us a minute to figure out why it was so quiet….no scooters! We had been so accustomed to the perpetual buzz and roar of the countless scooters in Taipei. It was weird! We stayed one night in Ikebukuro only because we had no idea where to go. Turned out, Ikebukuro is the second busiest subway station in the world and houses many walking streets. We ditched out packs and immediately searched out a sushi joint. We ate sushi on a daily basis and it was absolutely deeeelicious.

image5-2

image1-10

We moved on from Ikebukuro to probably the most famous district in Tokyo, Shinjuku. We rented a tiny apartment 15 minutes walk from the center of Shinjuku as our headquarters. During the days we munched on Japanese crepes while strolling through Takeshita street in the Cosplay (costume play) haven of Harajuku, and admired ancient Japan at the Shinto Shrine of Meiji, Asakusa, and the Kan’ei-ji pagoda.

image2-5

image2-4

image3-2

image1-7

As you probably know by now, I LOVE the in-your-face, city lights of an Asian city. I thought we had it good living in Taipei as far as lights go, but Taipei has nothing on Shinjuku. It was visual overload. Massive buildings with scrolling LED screens, neon infused sings, and 5 stories high TV’s littered every single building. Every corner there were psychedelic signs displaying advertisements for the tastiest ramen or billboards urging you to try snagging an anime stuffed character at the arcade. I can’t describe it. You truly need to see it to believe it!

image6-2

IMG_2165

A trip to Tokyo is not complete without a trip to the anime/manga crazed district of Akihabara. Neither of us are into reading anime or collect action figures displaying strange and sometimes inappropriate gestures, but we are interested in feeling out of place and experiencing new things. Akihabara just bleeds SEGA, Sailormoon, Dragonball Z, and every other anime material that my very, very inexperienced anime cultured-self could tell you. It was bizarre, but in a new experience kind of way. We thoroughly enjoyed soaking up this element of the Japanese culture.

image2-7

image1-9

image3-5

image4-2

If you haven’t already booked your flight to Tokyo to see the city lights, here are our last pictures of the sensational lights at Shibuya and it’s famous crosswalk.

IMG_2192_2

We are now back in Taipei anticipating the start of our second semester. We were concerned that going back home to the USA would bring back feelings of comfort and make it hard to leave, but we have grown to love Taiwan. Don’t worry Moms, we definitely love being home but we are excited to finish out the year strong. Being home was the refreshment we needed to come back to Taipei and accomplish our goals. With all that being said, Happy Chinese New Year! Let the year of the Ram begin!

image5-3

Kyle and Sarah

A Humbling Experience in Cambodia

Hello from Taipei Taoyuan International Airport! Not to rub it in or anything but today is a comfortable 60 degrees, while yesterday we were sitting at the pool in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 90 degree weather! We’ll soak it up before we hit the freezingness of Grand Rapids, MI tomorrow.

So Cambodia…this was always a Southeast Asian country that never really caught my attention. I never had a huge urge to visit, even though my brother, Jordy and Alec Green told me it was an amazing place. Cambodia is definitely on the Southeast Asian backpacker trail, although not as popular as the fan favorites of Thailand and Vietnam. I have to say Cambodia blew both Sarah and me away. From the second we hopped on that tuk-tuk, the main mode of transport, in the dusty capital of Phnom Penh, we knew this was going to be a trip for the books.

IMG_4014

DCIM100GOPRO

It’s amazing to Sarah and me how different countries can be even when they do share a border. We expected Cambodia to be very similar to Thailand. Though the climate and landscape were similar, they couldn’t have been more different. Bangkok, Thailand is a massive city that is home to many multinational companies, huge skyscrapers, and in general, has a very modern infrastructure. Cambodia, and Phnom Penh more specifically, was much different. This city was edgy. It was flat, dirty, and intimidating. This city was much different than anything I had encountered before. See, Cambodia is extremely poor. Most full-time workers make between $60-$100USD per month. You can just imagine the extreme poverty that was ever-present. Right outside our hotel were families living in cardboard boxes, tiny children digging through trash cans, with rats basically running over their feet. It was sad.

IMG_4117 IMG_4043

IMG_4057

IMG_4041

IMG_4039

Through the poverty, the Cambodian people were happy and genuine. I think that is what made the trip so wonderful. The begging was present, but we never thought we were getting totally ripped off. We felt the Cambodian people were honest, genuine people…which can be rare.

IMG_1677

We spent our time in Phnom Penh touring the brilliant Royal Palace along the riverside, perfecting our haggling skills at the stuffy Russian Market, and learning about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

IMG_4137

IMG_4069

IMG_4051

The Killing Fields. What a humbling experience for us. This alone gave us a whole new perspective on Cambodia as a whole. Every person we passed on the street, in one way or another, has been affected by the Khmer Rouge. The population of Cambodia before the takeover of the Khmer Rouge was roughly 8 million people. The Khmer Rouge was in power for 4 years, during which, 2-3 million people were brutally murdered and thrown into pits. That’s 1 in 4 people who were killed, only 35 years ago. The Killing Fields are now a museum for Cambodians and foreigners alike to join together to learn and pay respect to the millions of people who lost their lives in this horrific genocide.

IMG_4087

IMG_4080

IMG_4084

After Phnom Penh we made the 7 hour, bumpy bus ride to the Northern city of Siem Reap. Let’s just say that “bumpy,” was an understatement. The “road,” to Siem Reap was hardly a road. To put it lightly, it was an insane bus ride. The traffic in Cambodia is ridiculous and there are literally no road signs and virtually no road rules. Buses take charge because they are the biggest and if you’re in the way…well you’re screwed. We breathed a sigh of relief when we got off the bus in Siem Reap, home to the world famous, Angkor Wat. This was the reason we originally wanted to go to Cambodia. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and it is absolutely breathtaking. We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day and woke up at the buttcrack of dawn to see the infamous sunrise over Angkor Wat.

IMG_4063

IMG_4240

The Angkor temples were built in the 11th century and were considered to be pioneering for the times in architecture and detail. It was simply magnificent. The sheer size and detail that went into these temples, and specifically Angkor Wat, was just mind-blowing. We spent the day climbing the steps of the temples and really trying to grasp the architecture of such amazing workmanship. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

IMG_4374 IMG_4304

IMG_4270

Our last few days were spent lounging at the pool and enjoying the night markets of Siem Reap. This country is about as cheap as it gets. You can never go wrong with a 50 cent draught of the local Angkor brew, 1 hour full body massage for $3, or a snake on a stick 🙂

IMG_4152

We’re officially on our way home. We are super excited to see our families and friends back home and devour a plate of the Dungeon’s chips n’ cheese 🙂 See you soon!

IMG_4385

Kyle and Sarah

Opening Sibling Doors to Taiwan

Hello readers!

It’s time for a new post. Time is just flying by over here. We just wrapped up our first semester of teaching and are officially on our Chinese New Year break. YAY! It’s going to be so nice to have some time off of school to travel and make our way back to good ol’ GR for a couple of weeks.

So tomorrow, my brother and sister head home after two weeks in Thailand and two weeks with us in Taipei. It’s been a blast showing them around Taipei! Jordy and Brittni had two full weeks here so we were able to add a few more places to see on our “visitors itinerary.”

One of Jordy’s top things to do in Taiwan was to get out to the mountains and waterfalls outside of Taipei. I’ve said it before, but Taiwan really has some amazing natural wonders to see. It’s a hikers paradise and there are countless trails to explore. Jordy wanted to checkout three waterfalls known as the Sandiaoling waterfalls near Pingxi. We hopped on the train to the tiny town of Sandiaoling and caught the trailhead. It was a great hike. It wasn’t insanely strenuous but had some areas that kept it interesting. There were a few rope climbs, branch ladders, and slippery trails that kept us on our feet. The three waterfalls were amazing and we were even able to climb along a cave to get behind one of them. We ended the day in the small town of Pingxi which is home to the world famous lantern festival. As Chinese New Year is right around the corner, the town was full of people writing their wishes and goals on the large lanterns and letting them fly off into the sky. Perfect way to spend the day.

IMG_2178

IMG_1366

IMG_1398

IMG_1414

IMG_1828

IMG_1622

IMG_1827

IMG_1428

Have you ever seen Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover: Taipei? If you haven’t, you should watch it. Anyways, Anthony visited some very far-out restaurants that Jordy and Brittni wanted to visit. The first restaurant wasn’t as far-out as the second, but the theme of the first restaurant was school buses. The restaurant served traditional Taiwanese food, but we got to sit and eat in old school buses.

IMG_1609

IMG_1607

IMG_1606

IMG_1601

The second restaurant was strange. Brittni had been wanting to go this restaurant ever since she heard of it. Modern Toilet….a restaurant dedicated to toilets and poop. You also got to pick..the traditional toilet bowl or the Taiwanese style squatty potty. I went for chicken curry in the traditional toilet bowl, while we all ate our poop desert served in squatty potties!

IMG_1722

IMG_1726

Our last discovery came yesterday. One of the top things to do in Taipei is climb Elephant Mountain to get a jaw-dropping panorama of Taipei. It’s a must-see, but it’s always stuffed with people. It’s hard to get a good view without someone’s head or a tripod blocking the view. We decided to try and find the trail to Tiger Mountain. The trail started at a beautiful Chinese temple and climbed upwards along the Tiger Mountain crest. The trail opened up to an absolutely stunning panorama of Taipei. Best thing about it? Not a soul was there. Now, yesterday was sunny and 70 degrees on a Saturday…you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day to hike and get a view of the 101. It was early so we kept on hiking along the trail and it eventually ended at Elephant Mountain. Just as we thought, it was packed. We promptly turned around and headed back to the Tiger Mountain view point. We were able to watch the sunset and see the city lights come to life all by ourselves!

IMG_2569

IMG_1875

IMG_4002

The rest of the week was spent showing them our favorite spots such as the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Shilin night market, and of our course introducing them to our family at the Neihu night market. It’s so hard to just eat and leave at our night market, especially on the weekends. All of our buddies are hanging out and who wouldn’t want to meet the blonde haired foreigners? We ended that night with the Taiwanese guys inviting us out for KTV, or karaoke. Oh boy. KTV has been on my bucket list since we arrived in Taiwan, but I knew it could get rowdy. We sang our hearts out until 5am with the local Taiwanese guys and it was so much fun 🙂

IMG_2337

IMG_1329

IMG_1350

IMG_1819

IMG_2065

IMG_0976

IMG_2122

IMG_1585

IMG_1894

IMG_2541

IMG_2537

IMG_2549

It was a great few weeks having my brother and sister here. We really get to spend quality time with our families when they visit and we’re very thankful for these opportunities. Luckily for Sarah and me, we’ll be home soon! We take off for Cambodia for a few days, then we’re homeward bound. Looking forward to the next few weeks!

Kyle and Sarah

 

 

Thailand, the Land of Smiles สวัสดี ครับ

สวัสดี ครับ

Thailand. The land of smiles. A country filled with mouth-watering, chili-induced food, breathtaking scenery, and chaotic but colorful cities. Yes. This was the perfect place for a little vacation.

DCIM100GOPRO

IMG_3760 2

IMG_1788

My brother and sister took off on their month long Asia tour 2 days before the New Year and started it off in the sprawling, sweltering heat of Bangkok, Thailand. Sarah and I decided what the hay, let’s take a few days off from school and meet them there. To all of the readers of this blog and our Facebook friends, it probably looks like we’re just on a giant vacation, but in reality, teaching is exhausting. Not in a bad way, but we were definitely ready for a few days off.

So we happily took the 3.5 hour flight to Bangkok and we couldn’t have been more excited. Finally we could get some much needed vitamin D, but more importantly, we were ecstatic to see Jordy and Brittni.

We started out Thailand right. A tower of the local Chang brew, and the most famous dish and equally tasty, Pad Thai on what is probably the most famous backpacker street in the world, Khao San Road. You can literally find/do/eat anything you want on this hippie, dreadlocked backpackers road. From dirt cheap elephant T-shirts and questionable food stalls, to bamboo tattoo shops, forged diplomas, and fried scorpions on a stick, to seedy trance clubs, and the constant “would you like a massage?” from the rather manly looking girl on the corner…you can literally find it all. The road is electric with energy, although maybe a few too many people who had a few too many Changs. Other than that, it’s a great place to soak up the backpacking vibe and acclimate to the sensory overload of a vibrant Southeast Asian country.

DCIM100GOPRO

IMG_1789

The following day we took a short 1 hour flight to the Western, coastal town of Krabi. Krabi is the gateway to the postcard perfect islands of Thailand. Jordy and I had done quite a bit of research before arriving in Thailand and decided that Tonsai Bay and Railay beach would be ideal places to stay. After a longtail boat ride to Tonsai Bay, we were ready to chill. And we did just that. Tonsai Bay is a rock climbers paradise. The beach is surrounded by massive limestone cliffs scattered with carabiners and quick draws for the people to climb. It’s a laid back island. There’s not  a whole lot to do past dark. There’s a couple bars and restaurants but it’s mostly quiet. We played some euchre and caught up on life with our siblings.

image1-5

IMG_3299

We rented a longtail boat and driver for a day and island hopped to Koh Poda, Chicken island, Koh Tup, and Phranang Cave. Freaking paradise. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

DCIM100GOPRO IMG_3356

IMG_3330

We headed back to Krabi to catch a boat to Koh Phi Phi. Before the boat, we needed to fulfill one of Brittni’s lifelong dreams of riding an elephant. We trampled through the jungle on huge elephants and it was awesome.

IMG_3426

IMG_3467 2

Koh Phi Phi is one of the most famous islands in Thailand and rightfully so. The water looks fake it’s so blue and the beaches are impressive. It’s also incredibly touristy. Thousands of tattooed sleeved students on their gap years partying their brains out gets a little old. It was fun to get a change of pace from the chillout-ness of Tonsai, but it was loud on Phi Phi. All that aside, it was fun. It was fun to watch drunken white guy try out their Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing skills on each other in the ring. It was fun watching the bamboo tattoo shops fill to the brim with people wanting a permanent souvenir from Thailand…after drinking a lethal bucket of Thai whiskey and red bull. Not a good idea. Luckily we didn’t see anyone with a Mike Tyson face tattoo.

DCIM100GOPRO

IMG_3743

IMG_3493

We took a longtail boat tour to Monkey beach, dove off a 12 meter cliff, and visited Maya Bay, which has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

image2-3

IMG_3649 2

IMG_1785

Now, when you see a longtail boat, “safe,” or “unsinkable,” are not words that come to mind right away, but after our ride back to the island, those words turned out to be true. We noticed at Maya Bay that it was getting cloudier and real windy. We didn’t think much of it at first, but after we started making our way back, we realized this was going to be a very interesting ride. Let’s just say we were surrounded by 15 foot rolling waves and our measly longtail, who’s greasy engine looked older than dirt, was barely carving through them. It was scary. Jordy was freaking out, Brittni and Sarah were doing the laugh cry and I just couldn’t believe we were about to capsize and drown. Thankfully our driver was a BOSS. We made it back soaked to the core, but safe and sound!

IMG_1787

Our last 2 days were spent in Bangkok walking through Buddha temples and sitting at the riverside. Our last night, my roommate from studying in Taiwan, Filip, met up with us. I’m always amazed that we live on different continents but still run into each other once or twice a year. Great times.

IMG_3816

IMG_3821

IMG_3799

IMG_3771

IMG_1763

All in all it was a great vacation. It was so nice to spend time with my bro and sis in Thailand. Now back to Taipei we go. It’s going to be a fun 2 weeks showing them around Taipei!

Peace!

聖誕節快樂!Merry Christmas!

Hey everyone!

Don’t worry we’re still alive 🙂 sorry for not posting earlier. We’ve been very busy with Christmas and all the festivities!

Where to begin? I’ll start out with saying that it was a very different Christmas for us here in Taipei. It was tough being away from our families during such a wonderful time of the year. On the other hand, it was a great opportunity for Sarah and I to really focus on each other and most importantly, the TRUE meaning of Christmas, Jesus Christ. We’ve really been diving into His Word and really focusing on following His plans for us. It’s an exciting point in our lives as a couple 🙂

Anyways, back to the festivities. Unfortunately, while you were all pigging out on steak and drinking egg nog, we were teaching the wonderful children of Taiwan. Yea, Christmas isn’t an official holiday here. That was rough. Luckily, our school threw a Christmas party for the kids. We sang songs, had a talent show, and did a gift exchange. I was even able to dress up as Santa Clause!

IMG_1445 IMG_1449 IMG_1452

We weren’t able to personally give gifts to family and friends at home, but as you’ve seen from previous posts, we’ve become really close to our night market family. The three little boys are so cute and we wanted to give them some gifts. We hooked them up with some sticky balls, airplanes, swords, masks and other toys. It was so fun watching their little faces light up as they unwrapped the toys. We spent Christmas Day hanging out with our “family” in Taiwan. We couldn’t ask for anything better while we’re here.

IMG_1589 IMG_1587 IMG_1585 IMG_1580 IMG_1577

Now, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without spending it with our real families. Thank goodness for skype! We got our butts out of bed early so we could spend Christmas with them via skype. It was almost like the real thing. We took turns opening our stockings and gifts and had just as much fun as we would have had at home. Dad, you’d be proud. I even had Sarah do a scavenger hunt for her presents 🙂 We would like to thank all our friends and family who sent us Christmas cards, gifts, notes, and star wars chopsticks! You’ve all made us feel very special this Christmas away.

IMG_1591 IMG_1592

IMG_1593 IMG_1606

We have an exciting few weeks ahead of us! My brother and sister are on their way to Asia as I type this blog. We will be meeting them in Thailand for a nice vacation and then they will be coming back with us to Taiwan for a couple weeks! Although it’s hard being away from family, we’ve been fortunate to have families take the time to come visit us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Kyle and Sarah

Opening Mom and Dad Door to Asia

Yo!

2 weeks ago we had the Brower invasion here in Taipei and the day they left for home, we were able to open the parent Doors to Asia! My Mom and Dad came to visit us in Taipei last week 🙂

My parents have had an interest in Taiwan ever since I studied abroad here in 2011. They’ve seen the pictures, heard the stories, watched the Anthony Bourdain episode, and decided it was now or never! My Dad agrees with me whole heartedly when it comes to visiting a new place….get the inside track. After 4 months of living in Taiwan, we’ve got it down pretty well.

Just like the Brower’s, the Door’s took the long trip from GR to Taipei and landed at Taoyuan International Airport. I was there to welcome them to Taiwan and get them back to our place. It’s fun to see everyone’s faces when they get out of the airport and take the taxi into downtown Taipei. They’ve all been traveling for 24 hours and should be dead tired, but when I look back from the passenger seat, all I see are big, wide eyes and looks of pure wonder as they gaze out the windows at an untrodden place. What a rush!

DSC02177

Dad, you’re going to be mad, but I need to start with a little preface before getting into more detail. Randy Door, for those of you who don’t know him, is my Father. He likes to know where he is, he loves meeting new people, and likes to know where his food is coming from. He does not like getting clobbered by scooters, roaming around second-tier foreign cities, or getting lost in a sea of people. Welcome to Taiwan, Dad…This should be fun 😉 Going into the trip, I knew my Dad would be faced with some uncomfortable situations. Who wouldn’t? He could have been on Mars for all he knew. Although it was hard for him to talk to people, and scooters always seemed to miss him by a hair, we’re confident he had a great time here!

Back to the week. Sarah and I showed my parents a lot of the same things as the Brower’s because they are the most popular things to see in Taiwan. Unlike the Brower’s, we didn’t go anywhere too far away, so we were able to spend some more time around Taipei and nearby cities.

Our first day started with the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and Elephant Mountain. I’ve mentioned Chiang Kai Shek in previous posts, so I won’t elaborate anymore on that, but Elephant Mountain is a must-see for any visitor to Taipei. After taking the MRT to the end of the red line, it’s a 30 minute walk and a 30 minute stair climb to a breathtaking view of Taipei. The weather in Taipei right now can’t decide what it wants to do. One day it’s freezing and rainy, the next it’s scorching and humid! This particular day was scorching and humid…it was a long, sweaty 30 minute stair climb. Good thing the views are worth every drop of sweat!

IMG_3000

DSC02227

IMG_3031

IMG_1416

We were trying to think of a day trip we could do that wasn’t too far away from Taipei, yet different. Keelung was the perfect choice….or so we thought 🙂 My parents arrived late Friday night and Saturday was the pretty classic sightseeing day. Monday was Keelung. I had been to Keelung during my first stint in Taipei so I was pretty familiar with it, but I didn’t realize how culture-shocking it could be for people who have barely left the US. We got off the bus to high winds and rain on a side street full of little Chinese shops and food stands. WHAM.

IMG_3116 IMG_3121 IMG_3150 IMG_3172I should say something about my Mom here, too. My Mom is pretty even keeled. She’s not as vocal about being uncomfortable, she just likes to soak it all in. I think I get my adventurous side from her. She may have been just as uncomfortable in Keelung as my Dad, but she took it in like a champ!

Keelung was fun. We were able to check out the famous seafood night market, although the famous lanterns weren’t lit up 😦 We made my parents try sushi and even got them to eat some night market food. I’m glad we took this trip as it was eye-opening for them and got them further out of their comfort zone. Great experience in Taiwan.

IMG_1417 IMG_3177

The rest of the week was spent showing them our favorite spots in Taipei. We took them to our favorite restaurants, our night market, Shilin night market, and went to my old stomping grounds in Gongguan/Shida where I went to school. I have to say it was nice to get my Mom back for all the torture she put me through growing up with eating…”Mom, you have to sit there until you finish your plate!!” 🙂 We soaked in the hot springs of Beitou, and took them up to one of the Brower’s favorite spots, Maokong, also known as Tea Mountain. We also took them to our favorite temple, Bishan Temple and hiked around the mountains of Neihu.

DSC02286 IMG_1452 IMG_1437 IMG_3045 DSC02470 IMG_3085

FullSizeRender

Having our families visit us in Taiwan was awesome. It was so fun to catch up with everyone and show them our lives in Taipei. The two trips were also very different. With the Brower’s, it was fun sampling all the crazy food and hanging out with our night market buddies. With my family, it was fun showing them a completely new place. We loved having visitors!

Now we have 3 weeks before we head out to Thailand to meet my brother and sister! We will be traveling in Thailand together for 10 days and they will becoming back to Taipei! Going to be a great few weeks again 🙂

Kyle and Sarah

 

 

The Brower Invasion!

2 weeks late…I know. Good thing we have a really good excuse. We had a fantastic week last week! After 3 months of Sarah and I hanging out all by ourselves, everyday, every minute….every second, we finally got some visitors! Don’t get me wrong, Sarah and I love hanging out together, but it was nice to have some others around 🙂 Sarah’s sister Abby, brother Matt, and sister-in-law Lara, made the long trip from Michigan to Taipei, Taiwan to visit us!

They landed on Tuesday night at Taoyuan International airport. I picked them up from the airport as the taxi drivers never know how to get to our apartment. Granted, we do live on a tiny, hidden street, the taxi drivers just never know how to get our place.  Landing in a completely foreign country after 24 hours of travel and getting lost in an enormous city isn’t on anyone’s top list of fun things to do. Well, we made it back fine and started the week off with a family-style Chinese meal at one of our favorite restaurants. The Brower clan did very well with the chopsticks, but were a tad apprehensive about the food. Great start to a very fun-filled week!

IMG_2626

The first full day consisted of showing the family the ins and outs of daily life for us in our slice of Taipei. We started the day with one of the most popular drinks in Taiwan and staple for any visit to the country, bubble milk tea. Sarah and I could drink this everyday, but apparently it’s a bit of an acquired taste as the Brower’s were a little weirded out by the bubbles. We visited our local day market, parks, and lakes around our area. Abby was even able to experience the SQUATTY POTTY! Definitely need to have good aim. It was a very nice introduction to a very unfamiliar country for our visitors.

IMG_0609 IMG_0627 IMG_0637 IMG_0634

The next few days were spent from riding the famous Gondola up to Tea Mountain to taste the different teas (Lara’s favorite!), to learning about Chiang Kai Shek’s leadership at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.  The girls also shopped to their hearts desires at the clothing market and we savored the legendary snacks at Shilin Night Market.

IMG_0732 IMG_0885

Taiwan’s number one tourist attraction is Taroko Gorge. It is a beautiful George. It’s an incredible scenic 2.5 hour train ride through mountains and hills the eastern side of Taiwan. Taroko Gorge offers stunning views of the Liwu river that cuts through the marble rock of the gorge. The trails are plentiful, and views are abundant. As I always say, Taiwan has some of the best natural beauty in the whole world…as you can tell by the following photos!

IMG_1199 IMG_1213 IMG_1344 IMG_1266 IMG_1246 IMG_1353 IMG_1271 IMG_1409 IMG_1496

Instead of staying in a hostel near Taroko Gorge, we decided to stay in a second tier city in Taiwan called Hualien. I love the smaller cities. They have such a different/foreign feel to them. After a full day of hiking and sightseeing, we were ready to get to our hostel. Matt booked a great hostel called the Secret Base. Sounded sketchy, but we couldn’t pass up a room with 3 big beds all lined up!

IMG_1375 IMG_1381 IMG_1363

We had fun exploring Hualien, although I’ve come to notice the Brower’s develop hangriness. A new word I invented.. when someone gets so hungry that they get angry. Watch out. Everyone wanted a break from Chinese food, but no one wanted to admit it, so everyone was getting hangrier and hangrier. Luckily, we found a decent place to eat that satisfied everyone’s hangriness!

Friday night couldn’t have been spent any other way….with our local night market buddies. As you’ve read from previous posts, we’ve become very good friends with the people at our night market. Matt, Lara, and Abby needed to experience the Taiwanese hospitality. Let’s just say we ate some very strange food that night. You can’t push it away either, because every time you turn around a new plate is put in front of you and everyone wants to see you eat their dish! We ate everything from clams, snails, and dumplings to peanut rolls, fried squid, and oyster pie. Have you ever had that feeling in your throat where you’re about to throw up? Your cheeks expand and you start to heave a little? Yea, the oyster cakes were not good.

IMG_0979 IMG_0989

IMG_0991

As a lesson learned from 2 weeks prior, I warned everyone to stay away from the Taiwanese liquor. Everyone agreed that that was a good idea, but we slowly watched everyone else get a little friendlier and friendlier. By the end of the night, we had given everyone an English name and we were getting kissed from literally every single person! It was definitely the most memorable night for us…you never know what’s going to happen at the good ol’ night market. 🙂

IMG_1025 IMG_1032 IMG_1002

It was such a fun week having the Brower’s in Taipei. We laughed our butt’s off, tried betel nut with the locals, and even got the crap scared out of us by an earthquake! It was a super busy week, but there was so much to see! I’m sure we’ll be reminiscing about this trip for the next 50 years 🙂

IMG_1529